Sunday, January 21, 2007

This Film is Not Yet Rated (2006)

This Film is Not Yet Rated (Kirby Dick 2006)

The Motion Picture Association of America, or MPAA, is the subject of Kirby Dick's biting, sarcastic and always humorous documentary. Under the guidance of Jack Valenti (who takes the form of double-crossing imp in Dick's doc), the MPAA has turned into a self-important regulating body that has become the bane of every self-respecting filmmaker. There's a host of problems clouding over the MPAA's charter: the anonymity of the members of its ratings board the disregard for precedent, the lack of a clear standard for ratings. Each and every discrediting factoid, Dick feverishly gathers; and quite fantastically, his method works.

The bulk of the documentary presents Dick's arguments against the MPAA as accompanied by several filmmakers' experiences with the board. The effect is quite convincing. You have to take in consideration of course that the host of interviewees Dick gathers are all generally aghast at the board's functions. A seemingly cool John Waters shares anecdotes on how he lost his 'cool' when his A Dirty Shame was given an NC-17, with the subsequent remark that they just stopped taking down notes with what they thought was objectionable in Waters' film. Kevin Smith (Jersey Girl), Mary Harron (American Psycho), Atom Egoyan (Where the Truth Lies), Wayne Kramer (The Cooler) share similar anecdotes with similar levels of disgust. Noteworthy is Maria Bello's appearance alongside Kramer talking about how their film got an NC-17 just because Bello's pubic hair was shown for a split second.

More telling is Dick's side-by-side comparison on what gets a favorable R and what gets the dreaded NC-17. Most directors agree that a standard might be the number of humps in a lovemaking scene. More problematic is the unequal treatment given to heterosexual and homosexual lovemaking (and this does not merely range to what is depicted on screen (as in sexual intercourse) but also involves un-visual psychological motivations for masturbatory action (as shown in a comparison between the masturbation scenes shown in American Beauty (which got an R) and Jamie Babbit's lesbian flick But I'm a Cheerleader). Even more enraging is the difference in attitude given to male and female pleasure; Dick seems to be concluding that female orgasms have a negative societal impact on society, thus the evident displeasure by the MPAA raters.

The angry outcry by filmmaker-artists is already stuff of public knowledge. Dick merely lends his talents to cinematographically embellish and enunciate their sentiments. Dick's primary contribution to the battle against the MPAA is his detective work in revealing who views, reviews, and rates the films they make with the questionable gift of confidentiality. Dick recruits a private eye (alongside her daughter-assistant) to pinpoint and trace each and every person in the board. What may seem like a boring process of waiting outside the MPAA building, stalking, and searching through garbage bins (to reveal a review of Rob Marshall's Memoirs of a Geisha (rated PG, despite a raunchilly described scene that involves fingers, sex, and virginity) evolves into a personal battle by the private eye (who is openly lesbian) to take part in Dick's activism.

Dick evolves his documentary into his own personal battle when he submits his film to the MPAA. Complete with clips from all the graphic scenes from the interviewed filmmakers that the MPAA adjudged as unfit for viewing, he knows that the verdict will necessarily be NC-17. The ruling is of course a mere vehicle for Dick to gain an impromptu interview with MPAA chairman Ms. Graves (sarcastically animated), to give us a vision or a momentary taste of the paranoia, the bias, the irrationality behind the MPAA's ratings. The NC-17 ruling also opens the documentary to the subject of appeals, giving further work for the private eye to reveal the members of the appeals board --- the revelation brings about disturbing notions of a conspiracy theory by all the corporate bigwigs against free artistry.

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